I've already discussed some of the racism that has occurred in the news coverage of the crisis in Haiti here. There has been a slight amount of push-back against the more virulent words of Limbaugh and others, but what is creeping into the media--tolerated no doubt by the racism that has been rising since the nomination of Barack Obama--is a subtle form of racism couched in terms of economics and caused, as usual, by ignorance.
A google search this morning returned 2 million hits using the keywords Haiti coverage racism, telling me that 1) it is a subject written about at length, and 2) a subject of concern to many. What is unfortunate, is that in 2010, the hits returned listed media from the major broadcast and cable networks, print, and other sources ranked highly enough to appear on the first few pages returned.
Very few Americans know the history of Haiti. They do not know that Haiti is the only country in which the slaves freed themselves, declaring themselves a free nation. At the time, Thomas Jefferson was President and had a secret deal with Napolean, who unknown to Jefferson, planned to establish a French Empire in the "New World" with a base in New Orleans to spread west off the Mississippi. With the loss of Haiti and decimation of his troops, Napolean eventually sold his territories and the "Louisiana Purchase" allowed the United States to double in size and eventually to spread west to the Pacific Ocean and deny France a foothold in the western hemisphere.
Angered at the actions of the Haitian slaves and afraid that the rebellion would move to American slaves, Jefferson embarked on a political and economic embargo that lasted until President Lincoln established diplomatic relations with Haiti forty years later. The murder of their first leader and political infighting within Haiti led to political instability within the new country. This upheaval and the economic chaos caused by the embargo began a pattern of political violence that lasted until recently. The reason for the poverty? The French demanded, and received, reparations for the loss of their sugar plantations after the slaves revolted and freed themselves (never mind such things as wages never paid). Twenty-one billion dollars was paid to France between 1925 and 1946. Troops from Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. ensured that this money was paid and have remained ever since. The power-brokers in Washington maintained connections with the light-skinned elite in Haiti enabling George Bush the Senior and George Bush the Junior both to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide both times he was elected by large margins in national elections. His presidency did not suit the Republican agenda in Washington, as it was Aristide that demanded the money be returned by France in reparation for Haiti's poverty.
So, America owes a big debt to Haiti. Even if we did not, this is a country that has just experienced a disaster of a magnitude that has been mentioned as one of the ten greatest since records have been kept. It is still unknown how many people have died and it said that it is not clear that we will ever know.
At Media Matters, their ongoing monitoring of the media shows that on January 13, Fox News top three rated shows, O'Reilly, Hannity, and Beck spent a combined total of 7 minutes on earthquake coverage compared to over two hours for Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, and Chris Matthews.
It was Rush Limbaugh who claimed that President Obama's suggestion that we turn 9/11 into a national day of service was a "left-wing political belief," and has mocked Fox News Shepphard Smith coverage of Hurricane Katrina (Smith being the one reporter on Fox who appears to have some decency left and the ability to occassionally defy his corporate masters).
Then, comes a column by David Brooks in the New York Times. Analyzed by Matt Taibbi here, I cannot even begin to come close to the quality of work Matt has done, so I won't try. As summarized in Taibbi's introduction, the Brooks article illustrates how:
"Not many writers would have the courage to use a tragic event like a 50,000-fatality earthquake to volubly address the problem of nonwhite laziness and why it sometimes makes natural disasters seem timely, but then again, David Brooks isn’t just any writer."
Poverty isn't caused by race, or class, or national origin. Poverty cannot be erased by throwing money at the problem, or building factories (read sweatshops) as was tried in the 1980's and 1990's. When the Haitian people demanded higher wages, saying they could not live on $1 per day, Disney, among others, packed up their factories and moved to China. Poverty ends when those in poverty are given the means to end their situation on their own.
Yes, money, but also opportunity. Build the factories, but pay decent wages. Help them re-build, but teach them how to build earthquake-safe buildings and provide some of the materials to do so. Educate them in reforestation techniques and send teams to work with them to do so. Don't take over the airport or the rebuilding, but collaborate with them. Instead of saying they have nothing and not government, take what they have and ask what they want and build on it. Don't patronize them as David Brooks has done. Learn the lessons of colonialism and understand that ensure that this rebuilding effort--and that of Iraq and Afghanistan while we're at it--are not perceived as such.
When people such as David Brooks talk about the futility of aid, he ignores the responsibility this country has for creating the situations that caused the poverty in the first place. Their situation has nothing to do with the color of their skin. Their is nothing inherently different about the drive or motivation of one person from another except perhaps that if you live in a home where your parents and their parents and all of your cousins, and neighbors, and classmates go to college and have good jobs and can expect certain things out of life, then you probably have the kind of environment in which you can learn. If you have proper nutrition, good medical care, annual dental visits, a safe place to sleep, time to play and exercise instead of having to work or care for siblings while parents work, or scavenge for food every day, then when you go to school, you are better able to pay attention and learn and retain and recall information.
Just as an example, a study by Hart and Risely (1995, 1999) found that by the age of 3, parents with a professional background had used over 30 million words when talking to their children, while parents with low-incomes had used on average 10 million words. Other studies have found a definite correlation between high linguistic ability early in life with success in school. From a sociologist's standpoint, we also know that when the parents support learning, when the parents read and have books or magazines in the home and read to their children or even when the children observe their parents reading, it reinforces the behavior which translates to improved performance in school. Translated to 3rd world countries, to Haiti, poverty goes far beyond race.
And before people bitch too loudly about the money spent on Haiti (which I personally think is too little), according to Kiilu Nyashu at OpEd News,
"...Obama threw a party that cost $50 million more than he's sending to Haiti. Yup! He spent $150 million on his Inaugural Ball. We also learned the following:
Top U.S. Firms are on pace to award $148.85 Billion in payouts for 2009, according to a Wall Street Journal Study. Billions with a B!
You can also buy a Beverly Hills mansion, a yacht, or a painting for more than the relatively meager sum Obama is donating. Obviously, we cannot rely on this government to do the right thing by Haitians in their hour of need. It never has."
Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.